“To Travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”
We all know that the media puts images in our heads of what different cities are supposed to be like. When I told my mom I was going to Istanbul her first reaction was “it’s not safe”. It’s funny how the world imagines every city to be dangerous. I have heard from fellow travelers that Istanbul is one of their favorite cities, and despite the popular opinion of Turkey I decided to experience the city myself. I booked a ticket from Zagreb to Istanbul and flew out the next day.
I arrived in Istanbul at midnight and I was nervous because I thought the city would be very quiet and dark. I was wrong. The airport was like Disney World. You could barley move from the gate to passport control. In order for Americans to enter Turkey we must purchase a visa for $20 or 15€. Luckily someone told me that I could purchase my visa online and pay by credit card. That was one of the best decisions I made. It allowed me to skip lines and walk right up to passport control, get my stamp, and find my shuttle. The hostel sent someone who was holding a sign with my name on it and he drove me straight to the World House Hostel.
The streets were filled with people and lights. It reminded me of NYC. My hostel was located near Taksim Square which is the new part of Istanbul with hundreds of restaurants and bars. As I was checking into my hostel all of the other guests were just getting ready to go out so the hostel was pretty much empty. I walked into my 10 person dorm room and found 1 other girl laying in bed. She told me I was staying in the “fun” room in the hostel, which is exactly what I wanted.
We started chatting and of course the normal questions were asked, “Where are you from?” “Where are you going?”, “How long are you here?” Her name was Rozeeta and she was teaching English in Israel. Immediately I asked her where in Israel she was living and she said Ashdod. It was time to play Jewish geography. I asked her if she knew one of my sorority sisters, Sara Merson, and she just smiled and said she is my friends roommate. What a small world! Rozeeta invited me to join her and her friend Emily on a cruise down the Bosphorus in the morning. Slowly throughout the night the rest of our roommates stumbled back to the room.
We woke up bright and early, enjoyed the complimentary breakfast, and crossed the bridge to the Old Town to make the ferry. There were many people trying to sell us their tours and when we told them no they were still so friendly. One man even walked us to the ferry we wanted to take after we told him we didn’t want to go on his tour. We walked onto the ferry and went to the top deck where we sat next to an American couple from Chicago. They had children our age and we had a wonderful time talking to them. The total ferry ride took 6 hours. We went up the Bosphorus (which is the physical divider between Europe and Asia) and stopped at a town that is just before the Black Sea called Anadolu Kavağı. It is on the Asian side of Istanbul so technically we spent a couple hours in Asia! It was very cute and quaint. There were fish venders up and down all of the streets selling calamari, mussels, and other sea food. We decided to be brave and try the fried mussels. That was a very bad idea. We ended up getting food poisoning in Asia. The ride back to the Old Town consisted of us sleeping and enjoying the views. We looked over the ledge and saw hundreds of jellyfish riding along the ferry. It was pretty awesome.
That night I was able to meet everyone else in the hostel and while they were getting ready to go out Rozeeta, Emily, and I stayed in an enjoyed our food poisoning.
The next day was spent exploring in the Old Town, Grand Bazaar, and Egyptian Spice Market. I literally spent hours getting lost, tasting teas, eating Turkish delight, making friends with people in the markets, and hiding from the rain.
For my last full day in Istanbul I wanted to explore the newer side of Istanbul so Rozeeta, Emily, and 2 new friends, Laurie and Katie decided to do just that. We walked around the city and then walked along the Bosphorus and made it to the Dolmabahce Palace. As travelers on a budget we decided not to go inside, but we appreciated the beauty from the outside.
Well I ended up missing my flight back to Croatia the next morning. Apparently traffic in Istanbul is constantly bumper-to-bumper. After buying a new ticket for the next day my friends decided they were going to make my extra day worth the $388 I spent on the new ticket.
That was the question posed at the beginning of the week. We came up with many answers, but my favorite was “One of them doesn’t shower at least every other day.”
I went to Istanbul expecting to take a Turkish bath and visit the Blue Mosque. While I didn’t do anything that I “was supposed to do” in Istanbul, I gained much of an appreciation for the locals, the land, and the culture. I stayed in a fantastic hostel and met amazing people.
A fellow traveler, Stylianos from Greece, could not have explained my experience in Istanbul any better than he did with his Facebook status: “So it happens once in a while that a new place can win you. It might be the landscape, the weather, the sound or just the time of the year you arbitrarily chose to land there. But then comes another arbitrary choice of a hostel, a floor, a room and after one week you start missing the smell, the snores, the laughs, the messy clothes, and the occasional night spooning of some unknowns that have become your family for a while. that’s my answer to our question “what’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler”. As a tourist I might have left satisfied, but as a traveler I left richer. Cheers to you all. Loved you.”